Tag Archives: grassroots fundraising

First time fundraising effort raises $75,000

Todd Robinson, Carnegie Hall, fundraising

Dr. Todd Robinson

Dr. Todd Robinson is a navy pilot and flight surgeon, author, film producer, medical school faculty member, and a practicing physician. He is an MD and a PhD. But until now there was one area in which he had no experience: fundraising.

Here’s the background: Getting ready for the world premier of renowned composer Earnestine Rodgers Robinson’s oratorio “Exodus” required fundraising. Dr. Robinson (Mrs. Robinson eldest son), and family members needed to raise $140,000 to $170,000 to bring 200 diverse choir members to New York City’s Carnegie Hall. The family organized supporters as Chicago Voices United. But, surprisingly, not as an independent 501c3 organization.

“One of the FUNdraising Good Times! articles talked about being creative in looking for funding sources as it pertained to nonprofits. This was very encouraging as we struggled in the early phases. Initially, we used personal funds and a loan as start-up capital for Chicago Voices United. But we quickly realized that we needed the nonprofit status to be more attractive for donations,” Dr. Robinson shared.

Instead of becoming a 501c3 organization, Dr. Robinson asked an existing nonprofit if Chicago Voices United could become a “sponsored project” of that nonprofit. The answer was yes, and months of paperwork and filing fees were saved, allowing the group to focus on their goal: fundraising for choir members.

They launched a website (www.ChicagoVoicesUnited.org), attempted crowdsource funding, website marketing, and social media but found each to be “extremely ineffective.”

“We decided to go a different approach. Like the article I read and resonated with, we had to get creative with our fundraising,” Dr. Robinson shared.  “As a result, we decided to pursue industries/companies directly involved in our fundraising needs: hotels and airlines based in Chicago. We figured it would easier for a company to donate their time or services to a home-grown project instead of just forking over cash.”

The results? “Requesting donations in the way of services, we quickly landed a sponsorship from Hyatt who made a donation in the form of “discounted” room prices; and in the world of expensive hotel rates of downtown Manhattan, this was a big win. Now, the price of lodging during the concert event was more within reasonable reach for our average choir member,” Dr. Robinson continued.  “This also made it easier for us to recruit choir members. Recently, United Airlines has expressed interest in making a donation of its services.”

A January “sneak preview” of Exodus in Chicago was well-received, and part of the Robinsons’ fundraising strategy: potential donors and influencers had the opportunity to experience the oratorio and become inspired. Follow up meetings are in progress as we go to press.

Dr. Robinson’s advice: “Constantly monitor your efforts with a critical eye; be adaptive and flexible enough to quickly change directions if needed; and think creative.”

You can donate at www.chicagovoicesunited.org or by calling Dr. Robinson at 901-414-3366. Contact him by email at info@chicagovoicesunited.org

Read Part One: The “Carnegie Hall or Bust” Fundraiser

Visit www.earnestinerobinson.com for more information about the life and work of Earnestine Rodgers Robinson.

Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.” They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at www.saadandshaw.com. Follow them on Twitter: @saadshaw.


The “Carnegie Hall or Bust” Fundraiser

Earnestine Robinson, Carnegie Hall, Fundraising

Earnestine Rodgers Robinson, Composer

We were recently caught off guard when Dr. Todd Robinson, a FUNdraising Good Times! reader, shared with us that he raised over $75,000 using information from this column. We had to learn more so we could share his story with you and inspire you to achieve your fundraising goals. We asked Robinson a few questions and with this two part series we share his story with you.

But first, a little background. Dr. Robinson is the son of Earnestine Rodgers Robinson, the renowned, barrier-breaking, classical composer. She has created her third oratorio “Exodus” which will have its world premier at Carnegie Hall in New York City on February 16th. An oratorio, is a large-scale musical work for orchestra and voices, usually based on scripture such as Handel’s Messiah.

The Exodus premier will include 200 choir members from across the country. And so the fundraising question arose: how will the choir members afford the travel and accommodations that accompany this great honor?

We asked Dr. Robinson to share his fundraising needs and goals.

“This started out as a “one-time” project. We needed to raise funds to underwrite the costs of bringing together a 200-member adult and children chorus from around the country for a performance at Carnegie Hall. The members of the choir were being recruited from schools, churches and community choirs. Since the recruitment was primarily “grassroots” in nature (and not some established symphonic choir), all those participating would be responsible for covering all of their costs without the benefit of corporate sponsorship. This meant that each individual would pay a required fee to the Carnegie Hall production company, plus airline travel and the expensive cost of living charges of Manhattan (taxis, food, hotel, etc). Of course, there were other costs outside of the chorus that we needed to cover.”

“Being ‘grassroots’ in nature, we knew that many choir members were dealing with modest budgets,” Robinson continued.  “As a result, the dream of performing on the famed stage would be out of reach for most, especially the children. However, we wanted a multi-cultural choir with members with diverse, varied backgrounds. Therefore, it was our mission that we wanted to make this incredible opportunity a reality for every person who wanted to participate no matter their financial standing.”

The Robinson’s made a pledge to raise the $140,000 to $170,000 needed to make the dream a reality. This became both their mission and their challenge. And then Robinson recalled a FUNdraising Good Times! column that included a discussion of fundraising and creativity.

Next week: More about Dr. Robinson and how he raised $75,000+ without starting a nonprofit.

Visit www.earnestinerobinson.com for more information about the life and work of Earnestine Rodgers Robinson.

Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.” They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at www.saadandshaw.com. Follow them on Twitter: @saadshaw.

Grassroots Fundraising

Is fundraising for small grassroots organizations different from fundraising for a hospital, college, or well recognized college access program? How do you raise funds for an organization that is challenging the local power structure? GIFT – the Grassroots Institute for Fundraising Training knows how. GIFT has been growing and supporting grassroots fundraisers for over 30 years. They have a great on-line archive of low-cost, easy-to-use tools and guides. Their upcoming conference (August 10th – 11th in Oakland, CA) will provide opportunities for fundraisers, activists and organizers to meet, learn and collaborate. Our interview with Jennifer Emiko Boyden, GIFT’s communications coordinator, will introduce you to the organization. After that, it’s up to you – you can raise the money you need to create social change.

Saad & Shaw: Let’s start with a provocative question – isn’t all fundraising the same?

Jennifer Emiko Boyden:     While it’s true that all fundraising—much like community organizing—is all about building relationships, skills needed to be an effective fundraiser vary depending on the community and fundraising activity. At GIFT, we feel it is essential for grassroots groups to be supported by, and accountable to, the communities they’re serving; and that a broad base of individual donors is critical for their long-term sustainability. Accountability to the community is not built-in when you receive a foundation, corporate or government grant, for example. In those cases, you’re accountable to the funder. Similarly, the skills needed to organize a special event or run a capital campaign are different from those needed to submit a grant proposal.

Saad & Shaw: What does the term grassroots mean to you?

Jennifer Emiko Boyden:     The best way to describe GIFT’s definition of “grassroots” is “from the community.” So “grassroots fundraising” involves building our collective resources; and “grassroots groups” are those led by, and accountable to, those who are most impacted by the work they’re doing.

Saad & Shaw: What are the skills that an executive director or development director needs to be successful?

Jennifer Emiko Boyden:     Executive directors and development directors need to have a strong vision for their work, the ability to build strong relationships with their supporters, and a keen sense for knowing how to energize a fundraising team. Planning skills and the ability to set realistic goals are also essential. One important thing for executive directors and development directors to know is that they cannot, and should not do all of the fundraising on their own. We work with groups so they can create a culture of fundraising, where fundraising responsibilities are shared across staff, and executive directors and development directors are not working in isolation and have more sustainable workloads. Too often, these positions are on a direct path to burnout. With the average amount of time a fundraiser stays on the job being just 16 months, as a sector, we’re clearly not supporting our development staff in the right ways.

Saad & Shaw:    How has the recent recession changed fundraising for grassroots organizations?

Jennifer Emiko Boyden:     With government cutbacks and shrinking foundation dollars, we have sadly seen many groups forced to close their doors. Others have gotten rid of their offices or transitioned from paid staff to being all volunteer. A lot of groups have also intensified their grassroots fundraising efforts, having learned the hard way the perils of over relying on foundation or corporate monies.

Saad & Shaw: What systems, policies or understandings need to be in place before a grassroots organization can be successful with its fundraising?

Jennifer Emiko Boyden:    Put simply, you need a culture of fundraising at your organization in which all board and staff are involved in raising money for your group. You also need to ensure that you have a diversified income stream, with a healthy balance of earned income, grassroots, and institutional support.  And having some kind of database—even if it’s just an excel spreadsheet to start—is important to track gifts, create thank you letters, and store other important donor information.

Saad & Shaw:  What is the mindset that a board member must have in order to contribute to the success of a grassroots organization in a meaningful way?

Jennifer Emiko Boyden: Having good board members who will follow through on their fundraising commitments seems to be a challenge for almost every grassroots group. Board members need to understand that in addition to their fiduciary responsibility, raising money for the group is an equally important part of the job.  However, we acknowledge that not all board members have the same kind of access to financial resources or networks, and we value the time, ideas, and other types of resources that board members have to offer.

Saad & Shaw: What are the three most important things a grassroots organization should consider as it considers launching a fundraising campaign?

Jennifer Emiko Boyden:     Before getting started, make sure you have the fundamentals in place like a current case statement and a goal or fundraising plan. It is also essential to use all three fundraising strategies (Acquisition, Retention and Upgrading), and have everyone (including your board) actively engaged in fundraising.

Saad & Shaw: Let’s back up a little – how did GIFT get started?

Jennifer Emiko Boyden:     GIFT was started in 1996 by the Center for Third World Organizing and the Southern Empowerment Project, two longtime organizing training centers. They believed that grassroots groups working for social change needed an organization to teach fundraising skills and support people of color to be fundraisers. The Grassroots Fundraising Journal was co-founded in 1981 by Kim Klein and Lisa Honig, who saw that most of the resources on nonprofit fundraising were not applicable to grassroots groups, especially those challenging and changing the status quo. GIFT and the  Grassroots Fundraising Journal merged in 2008. The new organization continues to be called GIFT and the magazine it publishes is still called the GrassrootsFundraising Journal.

Saad & Shaw:    What is the mission of GIFT?

Jennifer Emiko Boyden:     The Grassroots Institute for Fundraising Training (GIFT) is a multiracial organization that promotes the connection between fundraising, social justice and movement-building. We believe that how groups are funded is as important to achieving their goals as how the money is spent, and that building community support is central to long-term social change. We provide training, resources and analysis to strengthen organizations, with an emphasis on those focused on social justice and based in communities of color.

Saad & Shaw: As an organization, what is GIFT seeking to accomplish?

Jennifer Emiko Boyden:     Our long-term goal is for social justice and progressive groups based in communities of color and low-income communities to depend on the financial support of their community and engage in grassroots fundraising using a social justice framework.  We do this by providing resources to individual fundraisers and social justice groups, including our bimonthly print magazine, the Grassroots Fundraising Journal, our free monthly eNewsletter, and training and consulting services. We also bring these groups together at our biennial Money for Our Movements: A Social Justice Fundraising Conference to strengthen our grassroots fundraising skills, build our collective resources, and sharpen our vision for our movements.

Saad & Shaw: Would you provide our readers with some examples of the types of information available through the GIFT website and magazine?

Jennifer Emiko Boyden:     Our website has a wealth of information available, some free and some for a fee. If you sign up for our free eNewsletter, you’ll get fundraising tips, training opportunities, and job announcements delivered to your inbox each month. We offer webinar podcasts on topics such as “Recruit 4 Great Board Members in the Next 4 Months,” a Spanish language training toolkit called “Comunidades del Futuro: Guia para Facilitadores Capacitando a la Comunidad en la Recaudacion de Fondos” and Special Edition Journals like “Spectacular Special Events.”

We also have over 350 articles in the Grassroots Fundraising Journal archive on topics ranging from special events to appeal letters to capital campaigns. Each article can be purchased for $3 each, but if you subscribe to the Journal, you’ll gain free, unlimited access to the full archive. It’s like having a virtual library at your fingertips! Each issue of the Journal is full of tips you need to be a better fundraiser!

Saad & Shaw: What about the upcoming conference? What can prospective attendees anticipate learning?

Jennifer Emiko Boyden:     The Money for Our Movements conference is different from other fundraising conferences in terms of content and participation. The workshops emphasize developing revenue strategies hand-in-hand with political goals. We, provide a space for groups to come together to learn from one another and identify opportunities for peer support and collaboration. Our signature debate is always thought provoking and lots of fun, with debaters tackling some of the most pressing issues facing social justice fundraiser-activists. This year our keynote speakers, Saru Jayaraman and Attica Woodson Scott, will share their vision for how we continue to successfully build out collective resources in this particular moment. We take pride in the feedback we’ve gotten from conference participants—two-thirds of whom are people of color—who say that our conference is one of the few times they get to see themselves, their community and their values really reflected in fundraising.

Saad & Shaw:       Thank you Jennifer.

Take a moment to visit GIFT online and subscribe to the journal.